For seven years now, Rutgers University of New Jersey and Adams County Nursery in Aspers, Pennsylvania, have been working under a “formal relationship” in which the nursery brings new fruit selections developed by the university into commercial channels.
Not much was said about it until this year, when Rutgers’ extension stone fruit expert—Jerome “Jerry” Frecon, known across the eastern United States as “Mr. Peach”—retired and became a horticultural consultant at Adams County Nursery. In a sense, that cemented the already existing link between the county and New Jersey’s land-grant university.
During the International Fruit Tree Association’s winter meeting in Boston, Phil Baugher, president of the century-old, family-owned Adams County Nursery, explained how the collaboration works and how it has benefitted both parties so far.
“We administer all the licensing and distribution,” Baugher said in an interview with Good Fruit Grower. “The breeder at Rutgers, Dr. Joe Goffreda, has one technician, teaches classes and has administrative responsibilities at the Rutgers Research Center at Cream Ridge. His position does not allow time for the commercialization work.”
Under the arrangement, Goffreda does the breeding and Adams County Nursery does the tasks needed to cross the divide between the university and the world of commercial fruit production. At the interface is the nitty-gritty work of propagating and testing new material that looks promising but needs to go into commercial trials.
In one sense, the Rutgers breeding program had positioned itself in a way that made widespread commercialization difficult.
As Baugher described it, “The purposes of the current Rutgers breeding program are to develop apricots for areas that cannot typically grow apricots, breed apples for areas with a high threat of apple scab and fireblight, develop peach varieties for regions with high humidity and severe bacterial spot pressure, and create niche varieties for those who grow for direct market and farmers’ markets.”
Goffreda has worked closely with peach growers in New Jersey, but that is hardly his only clientele. “Goffreda has developed three major yellow-fleshed peach varieties—Gloria, Messina, and Desiree—and Gloria has been the number one selling peach variety for Adams County Nursery over the past five years,” Baugher said.
In a sense, the Rutgers breeding program was too good to be so narrowly confined—much as the Honeycrisp apple was too big for Minnesota, where it was bred by that state’s land grant university.
Many of the major public breeding programs at land grant universities have found they need to reach out beyond their states’ borders or find new ways of relating to in-state growers.
University of Minnesota licensed a new apple to Next Big Thing, which controls it as a club variety named SweeTango. Cornell University released two new varieties to New York Apple Growers, an entity that would, club-like, restrict the varieties to New York State growers only. Washington State University released two new varieties that will be restricted to Washington State growers.
In New Jersey, Rutgers decided to release all its new stone fruit and apple varieties through Adams County Nursery, which will work with Rutgers to release new varieties in ways best suited to them, whatever that may be.
“We can decide which way to go,” Baugher said. “We can make a traditional introduction. We can release for direct market retailers. We can create a club variety. We have partners in other countries, and we can work with them.”
He described the relationship as “a defined collaboration with specific roles and responsibilities” in which “new selections fall within the guidelines of the agreement when propagative material is transferred to Adams County Nursery.”
Adams County Nursery has the primary responsibility for sublicensing in the United States and internationally. Currently, it has sublicenses with Dave Wilson Nursery in Modesto and Fowler Nurseries in Newcastle, California; Brandt’s Fruit Tree Sales, Van Well Nursery, and Cameron Nursery in Washington State; and Cumberland Valley Nurseries in Tennessee.
It has a sublicensing agreement with the Vineland Research and Innovations Center in Ontario, Canada, which releases new varieties developed at the Vineland Research Station.
It has a sublicensing agreement with the Associated International Group of Nurseries, which has members around the world and offers “a pathway for testing, plant breeders rights, and licensing worldwide,” Baugher said.
“We’ve taken on the whole Rutgers portfolio,” he said.
That includes 21 apple selections, 42 peach and nectarine, and 10 apricot.
While the peach program has been quite productive, “up until now we have not had much activity in the apricot program,” Baugher said. “This spring, we will have the first trees of ten new selections go out into trials.”
In the apple program, budwood from 21 elite selections was moved from Rutgers to Adams County Nursery in 2009, where they were propagated and planted at six sites in 2011. “We tasted the first fruit last year, and we will take a much closer look at six of them this season,” Baugher said.
The selections are all resistant to apple scab. “Fifteen years ago, I was not convinced that growers would be enthusiastic about scab-resistant apple varieties,” he said. “That has changed.”
For the future, Baugher said, the priorities are the following:
—Focus on commercial peach and nectarine varieties with high fruit quality and resistance to bacterial leaf spot. There are now more than 50 numbered selections in the program.
—Evaluate the apricot collection with the focus on selections for regions where apricots are difficult to grow. Ten selections are under test.
—Continue evaluations of scab-resistant apple cultivars to identify varieties for the commercial grower with an emphasis on the direct marketing.